23 December 2012

Africa: Thumbs Up Africa Blog 12 - Defecating of a Different Kind


Ihanda — Friends tell me I poop a lot. At least three times a day, they say. That might not be true, but I do have regular bowel movements. That's fine because I use my daily visit to the loo as a time to think.

My mother used to complain about the time I spent in the bathroom. "We can smell you in the living room!" she would joke. At that time, I was mostly reading the adventures of Donald Duck instead of thinking, but that changed over time. My toilet in the student house where I live in the Netherlands is located on the balcony. No joke. The size of the cabin is so small that I have to open the door so I don't catch my knees on it. It's a legacy of cheap post-war construction that was never renovated since students will pay for it regardless. "It's like camping," first-time visitors say.

It is defecating of a different kind in rural Tanzania. In Ihanda, a small village about a hundred kilometres from the capital, a toilet is called a latrine: a small hole in the ground with either a wicker or stone wall built around it. In the case of the first, privacy is not something you should care about. Don't get me wrong - I believe squatting to poo facilitates the work of the intestines, but it's not hygienic. Imagine your and your neighbours' faeces piling up for over a year. I didn't have to imagine: I just pointed my flashlight. A whole world of strange species crawling around in there. Obviously, not the cleanest circumstances in the world.

In addition, there isn't sufficient water supply in town, so people do not wash their hands after visiting the latrine. That causes serious illnesses in the long run. In fact, it's one of the biggest problems Ihanda is facing nowadays. It's hard to imagine that I flush my poo with drinking water at home, while here people don't even have sufficient water to drink, let alone to flush. Both the Dutch and the German government are helping finance a lot of small projects to try to improve the situation in Tanzania. A local NGO does this by constructing new toilets and educating their users. Educating them on what? Educating them on how to maintain the toilet, but also on how to wash their hands properly. Within two years, the community has to pay a part of the construction costs back and finance the maintenance themselves.

Myself, I've been thinking about how to improve the toilet flushing system. Using rainwater could be an option, but where would I store it? Besides, it isn't convenient to have to use a bucket every day. What would be the best way to do it then? Questions, questions, questions. Enough to think about during my next visit to the toilet, or rather, the latrine.

Read more Thumbs Up Africa blog entries here.

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